A Very Clever Theropod

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It has been quite a while since my last post. The longer it got, the better that post had to be. Finally I found a suitable subject matter. A friend of mine dragged me to the Tower of London the other Saturday. He wanted to soak up the story of Tudor England. I had a very different attraction in mind.

The Tower has been home to many fascinating characters – from Colonel Blood to the Crays – but none quite so intriguing to me as the ravens. These large Corvids are a great anecdote to 1980’s speculation of what large-brained dinosaurs might have looked like – if circumstances had permitted. The researchers came to the same conclusion that most alien speculators reach: regardless of origin, smart creatures must look like us because we are the archetypal intelligent species right? Wrong: circumstances did permit dinosaurs to diversify into extremely intelligent species; those species look nothing like humans; and chief among them is the raven.

I cannot stress strongly enough how smart these birds are. Their close cousin the Californian Crow has even solved puzzles not previously accomplished by chimpanzees. Ancient cave art shows that they have been our companions on the road to increased brain power for a very long time. It is likely that the ancestors of these birds regularly outwitted our own ancestors.

About to call from her vantage point

About to call from her vantage point

The bird that caught my eye on that Saturday was Merlina. There are 8 ravens at the tower but Merlina really stands out. She was perched on the railing, dipping her head down and making a low, booming sound akin to a spring being twanged. What on earth did it mean? I watched a while longer, taking ample opportunity to photograph this bird. A man and his son were picnicking nearby so I tried to make it as obvious as possible that I wasn’t photographing them. Then, as I watched, this dramatic scene unfolded:

Merlina pretending she's not up to anything.

Merlina pretending she’s not up to anything.

Moving surprisingly fast, her clipped wing is no disability.

Moving surprisingly fast, her clipped wing is no disability.

It all happened so quickly, this man was taken completely by surprise.

It all happened so quickly, this man was taken completely by surprise.

and off she flies with the boy's ham roll!

and off she flies with the boy’s ham roll!

What's a good heist without a celebration?

What’s a good heist without a celebration?

She enjoyed her meal immensely.

She enjoyed her meal immensely.

Are you going to steal my hard-won meal? I don't think so.

Are you going to steal my hard-won meal? I don’t think so.

I spoke to one of the guides about Merlina afterwards. Apparently she does this quite often. She also clocks what food people throw away and turfs out the contents of the bin to retrieve it – much to the cleaners’ dismay. When being put away at night she must be put away last, or she attacks her mate. Like I said: a real character!

She is by no means the only character among the Unkindness or Ravens at the Tower. One of them plays dead in order to hunt pigeons and another pecks holes in the guide hut until it leaks (Merlina may be partial accomplice to this one). If you love your neighbourhood crow, jay, and magpie you could do far worse than visit their large cousins. Tell them I sent you, they probably understand.

Nanotechnology Through the Ages

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Richard Feynman is rapidly becoming the Oscar Wilde of Science, in that he is the name one should give in a pub quiz when unsure who to attribute something to. One thing we perhaps shouldn’t credit him with is the birth of nanotechnology. It’s a well known story: Dec 29 1959, Caltech. Feynman gives a talk, entitled Plenty of Room at the Bottom, in which he predicts that we will one day put whole libraries on the head of a pin. One thing leads to another until, in 1989, the word “IBM” is spelled using 35 xenon atoms.

PubSai

PubSai

For Sai Maddala, a PhD student at Queen Mary, the story begins some 4.5k years earlier with the manufacture of the pigment Egyptian Blue. A distinctive and popular dye, Egyptian Blue has been found as far afield as Pompeii. One of the reasons for its success has been its durability (not its “beautiful plumage” as one might have guessed). The Egyptians knew that, when it is exposed to the elements, pigment rapidly fades. Not so the Egyptian Blue: by a process of heating copper lime & sand in a furnace Egyptian Blue cools to form sheets 0.87 nanometres (nm) thick, which are extremely resistant to everything except boiling water. Since the definition of a nanomaterial is that one of its dimensions must be under 100 nm (4000 x thinner than your fingernail), this pigment is a good contender for the earliest use of nanomaterials.

Next we move on to a Graeco-Roman method for dying hair black: the technique uses lead oxide, slaked lime, and water to bind 5 nm thick lead particles around keratin proteins in the hair. Despite the worrying mention of lead in cosmetic treatments the technique did not appear to have any ill side effects.

In the 4th Century ad, glassblowers started producing cups that shine one colour when the light comes from one direction and a totally different colour when the light direction changes. Nature has been doing this for millions of years of course (the structural colouration in hummingbirds for example) and is achieved by microstructures in the surface of the material. The Lycurgus Cup at the British Museum is an exquisite example of this. The effect in this particular case is created by gold and silver particles, 70 nm in size, at a ratio of 3 gold to every 7 silver. It is suggested that the process was discovered by accident when glass blowers threw coins into the furnace for luck. Later glass manufacturers would take this a step further by using gold particle research generated by alchemists and apply it to glass pigmentation. They found that, by varying the size and shapes of gold and silver nanoparticles, they could make an array of vivid colours of glass. An example of this later method can be seen in the large round window at Notre Dame, Paris.

When our ancestors gleefully trotted off to “liberate the holy land” they encountered some remarkable technology: Damascus swords with a rather distinctive ripple pattern on their steel blades. These swords were allegedly so sharp you could cleave a piece of silk fabric dropped onto their upturned blades. They also boast being able to cut rocks without blunting. If you’ve ever tried to cut a slice of bread with a steel fish knife you’ll know what an extraordinary claim this is. Recent analysis of these Damascus Swords reveal the presence of carbon nanotubes surrounded by a 50 nm layer of cementite. By treating the finished blade with a powerful acid (hence the wave patterns on the surface) the carbon nanotubes are drawn up to the surface, providing the legendary qualities described. Wootz steel manufactured this way has its origins in India at least as far back as 300 bc, though some argue it’s even older. Could this be the earliest non-aesthetic application of nanotechnology?

Damascus Sword

Damascus Sword

I am not doing justice to Sai’s talk: he mentioned much more than this including the 7th Century process of trapping pigment in clay at the Yuccatan peninsula, as well as a run-down of the key figures, discoveries and inventions which contributed to our modern understanding of nanotechnology, such as: Faraday’s experiments in the 20’s with gold nanoparticles; Richard Zsigmondy and the ultramicroscope; Jean-Baptiste Perrin and Avogadro’s Constant; Sir Humphry Davy; Döbereiner’s lamp & lighter; platinum sponge; Paul Sabatier and the hydrogenised nickel catalyst; G. Binning & H. Rohrer’s scanning tunneling microscope… I know I’m missing a few. Keep an eye out for this guy: the subject of his PhD has some amazing nanotechnological applications for modern medicine.

Join us on the 9th September when PubSci will be turning its attention to Syphilis in Southwark.

When does art become vandalism?

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Much is made of the “subjective value of art”. Listen to some and you would be forgiven for thinking that there are no absolutes whatsoever in the value of art – that there is no point trying to score a piece of artwork by its virtues or shortcomings and any attempt to do so is a kind of neo fascism. In reality a piece of art does have many objective values but the weight those values have in the eye of the appreciator make the difference in how that artwork is subjectively enjoyed.

What happens when that artwork had to destroy something in order to be created? This story is nothing new: the tyrenian purple dye used in ancient Rome cost 8,000 whelks for every gram, such was the production process. This made it very expensive, though I doubt many people lost sleep over the massacre of whelks.

Anyone with a property that has been singled out by a graffiti artist will have to make a decision about whether the art on their beloved wall has raised the value of the wall or lowered it. This ultimately depends upon the history of the wall and the quality of the art.

An example of Banksy graffiti.

An example of Banksy graffiti.

Sometimes it’s a clear-cut distinction: a Banksy on a rather machine-cut modern wall of no import or an offensive racial slur on the side of an ancient temple. It’s easy to say whether the addition has raised or lowered the overall value. Other times, the issue is much murkier.

National Geographic ran a story a few months ago on the Russian mammoth ivory trade. According to the article, mammoth tusks still litter the Russian steppes many millennia after their extinction. Some people earn their livelihood searching for them and selling them. Ivory-obsessed cultures such as China buy the tusks and, in the specific case of China, spend up to five years carving the ivory into something else. An example of the ivory carved artworks can be found here. There’s no denying that the resulting pieces are skilfully done but, personally, they don’t justify the deliberate destruction of something already beautiful and irreplaceable like mammoth ivory.

Then you get something like this:

26 000 year old Cro-Magnon ivory carving

26 000 year old Cro-Magnon ivory carving

26 000 year old Cro-Magnon ivory carving

26 000 year old Cro-Magnon ivory carving

Just like the modern Chinese carvings, this was also carved from mammoth ivory but now it is a 26,000 year old likeness of Cro-Magnon man – made by a Cro-Magnon – giving us an eyewitness window into a prehistoric world. It is now so old that it has innate historic value of its own in addition to the craftsmanship required to fashion it. It didn’t destroy the mammoth tusk any less but somehow it feels more acceptable.

Here’s another paradox: the Egyptian pyramids. Last surviving wonders of the world, they are a breath-taking testament to human achievement. The blocks used to construct the pyramids were hewn from nearby limestone quarries… Limestone quarries in which we have subsequently found the remains of Basilosaurus, the grandfather of modern whales.

The great pyramids of Giza

The great pyramids of Giza

Are there more fossils of Basilosaurus or its contemporaries locked inside those limestone blocks that make up the pyramid? I would be very surprised if there weren’t. Most people wouldn’t even consider taking the pyramids apart to find out. You had better hope I’m never in a position to make that decision because I would consider it.

So where is the line for you? At what point does art cease to be worth the sacrifice made to create it?

Spot the Foxes

Foxes

See how many you can spot.

Here’s a fun little challenge for you this Thursday: see if you can count the foxes in this image. I’ll give you a hint: there’s more than one. I saw this family romping in the tall grass on my way back from the Co-op yesterday. They’re lucky for Urban foxes – they have large rural spaces to hide in and lots of real prey to hunt. I only hope they learn caution quickly: they were far too trusting of us.

Dead Interesting

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What would you do if you had a year to identify and evaluate the contents of your natural history collection? A quarter of a million specimens spread over two sites, that’s an average 2 minutes and 6 seconds per specimen. If you must insist on eating, sleeping, travelling from one site to the other… that time per item rapidly dwindles.

These are the issues facing the Horniman Museum’s Russell Dornan and the Bioblitz team. Despite his daunting schedule Russell still found time to come and talk to us for three hours. That gives the PubSci audience a collective value of 85.7 museum specimens. I’m very flattered by that!

The issues that face the Bioblitz process are numerous: in the liquid stores you have a giant fan running in the background that prevents you thinking when it’s on and stops you breathing when it’s off; Elsewhere, the drawers and storage units are packed together so tightly that you cannot reach some specimens for the layer of other specimens in front of them.

Other challenges include: trying to read the handwriting of the naturalists; trying to match specimens to documentation where the two haven’t been kept together; gathering information scattered across multiple databases; organise regional data where half the entries refer to the old name of the country; and so on…

The Horniman staff are a knowledgeable bunch but the total breadth of knowledge required to identify the value of the whole collection requires outside wisdom. Independent adjudication is a very good idea, I wish more people did it in other industries. Coordinating visits from outside experts so that you make the most of their limited time is another challenge in itself, especially when multiple collections share the same storage space. Nevertheless their input is well worth the effort. Horniman curator Paolo Viscardi said he learned more about reptile identification in the day and a half of Colin McCarthy’s visit than he could have learned with months alone amongst the reptile bones.

In some cases the value of the specimen can be quite ordinary but the way in which it was prepared gives it historical value. An example of this are the “double preps” – specimens with the outer skin layer on one side and the skeleton on the other. These are an 18th Century German preparation technique and there are 18 of them in the Horniman Museum, including Patches & Persephone the double prep dog & cat respectively. If you know of a larger collection of them than this, please let me know.

The Horniman Hornbill on its T-shaped perch tells of its uniquely French preparation, while the lollipop birds are quite amusing. More on those in my future post on structural colouration.

Sometimes fakes become more historically valuable than the genuine specimen too: the Precious Wenteltrap, for example, is a tightly spiralled mollusc whose shell is almost paper thin. In life it is kept in shape by its soft organs but, once dead, becomes increasingly fragile. Fakes made of rice paper were rife until identification and preservation techniques of the real thing improved. Now, due to their highly edible nature, the fakes are very rare & worth more than a real Precious Wenteltrap.

All in all a great talk and I look forward to seeing more from the star specimens in the future as they are digitised and uploaded.

I hope to see lots of you at next month’s PubSci. Until then, have a great month.

Feeding Time for the Falcon Chicks

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High on the top of a church roof in Sheffield there lives a small family of wild theropod dinosaurs. The species in question is Falco peregrinus – more commonly known as the Peregrine falcon. Thanks to the University of Sheffield, this beautiful predatory bird’s nesting behaviour is freely accessible live on cam. I have them on in the background, they’re more entertaining than any virtual “desktop companion”. Yesterday’s feeding was particularly eventful. Below is a gallery of 51 images taken from 14:46 to 16:36. There are 3 chicks and an egg in the nest. I have only recently started following their behaviour so I don’t know if this is a chick that never was or a sumptuous morsel brought in by a parent. Today’s windy weather revealed the shell has been pecked open on one side and is now completely hollow so either way it became food. The chicks alternate between playing with it and pretending to incubate it.

It’s very clear from watching them that there is a range of personalities there even though they are quite hard to differentiate by appearance. One of them is very bold and pushy – frequently pinching food off the others and hiding it under its mantle. Today this one has done a lot of wing-spreading in the wind and I suspect it will be the first to fly. Another chick seems quite cautious and lets the others push in front for food. When it finally did pluck up the courage to take some, it got a small feather stuck in its throat and spent the remainder of the first course learning how to dislodge it (frames #24 – 26). The parent did not attempt to help remove it but just flew off to collect the next course.

This gallery is no substitute for watching the live feed but this is stuff they won’t repeat again and no two meals are alike so, if you missed it, this is as good as it’s getting. They’re a delight to watch and they are constantly surprising. I’m so glad Sheffield Uni have done this and so glad the peregrine falcon is making a small come-back in that area.

The Value of Owls

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One of the challenges artists face is avoiding the urge to hug the mid-tonal range. The human brain is great at summarising necessary information and finding patterns but this can work against us when we are trying to observe what is actually in front of our eyes. What we tend to do instinctively is tentatively fill in the extremes of light and shade,

Classic art training recommends making a grid of progressively darker shaded squares to act as a guide beside our work – an absolute shade reference to compare against the relative shade of the surrounding parts of the picture, which can trick our eye and lead us astray. Adding just a couple of extra shade ranges can make the difference between a dull, flat-looking image and a rich, photorealistic one. In days gone by a person could spend a year or two just studying greyscale images to get used to the importance of shading before moving onto colour.

To help demonstrate this concept let’s use a photograph of a living Theropod. Here we have a White-faced Scops Owl and we’re going to break down the photo into sections based on each pixel’s value. Before taking a peek at the end result, take some time to look at the photograph: see if you can predict where the mid ranges are; where the highlights are; where the shadows are. Chances are you’ve divided the image into 3 in your head and this is what translates onto the canvas without practice.

white-faced scops

White -faced Scops Owl

Now let’s take a look at the pieces of the image. I made a utility in C# to getnerate these for any given photograph. I’ve placed a swatch of the shades beside each generated value with a highlight to indicate which shade range we’re looking at. I had to offset the backgrounds by 128 shades to make it easier to view but I can provide transparent versions of these for anyone who’s interested – it’s quite fun pasting each image into a new layer in Photoshop Elements and watching the image build back up. I thought about making an animated GIF of it but the colour palette distortion would have been deceptive.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Next time I shall be wading into the murky world of diffraction…

Something in the Water does not Compute

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Controversy, thy name is PubSci. This evening we heard a talk by Professor Martin Chaplin on the remarkable properties of water. The talk started with some very unusual observations: firstly that liquid water contracts when heated, while most things expand; secondly that water molecules may move apart as the water density increases. It sounds counter-intuitive but there are good reasons for it.

Dr. Chaplin discussed the predictable instability of water: how the H2O bonds constantly break apart and form ion pairs, which last for mere milliseconds but 1 in every 60 water molecules exist as an ion pair at any one time. This allows water to form (H2O)5 molecular clusters, which break and re-form easily.

Dr. Chaplin showed that water behaves counter-intuitively in other ways too. At -100 degrees Celsius you get glassy structures, change the temperature or the pressure and crystals form. Water also behaves like two different substances depending on the pressure: at high pressure it behaves like other liquids; at low pressure it does not.

When electrically charged, water can defy gravity – creating a bridge between two bodies of water that flows one direction on the outside and the opposite direction on the inside. This is so odd it deserves its own paragraph and I can’t believe I almost forgot to add it.

Just like the subject of his talk, the talk itself got stranger as time went on. We covered nano bubbles (100 nm cavities in the water) and the Young-Laplace equation, why Nature Journal is convinced they don’t exist (Nature 2007, 445, 129) and how they can be measured and differentiated from dust particles using resonant mass measurement, dynamic light scattering, laser scattering, electrical resistance, and Brownian motion. Whilst I applaud any scientist who does not commit the Appeal to Authority fallacy and accept the findings of an established journal just because they said so, I did get the very strong feeling that a large part of his argument was an appeal to our fondness for the underdog up against the establishment – or what I call Dr. Jack Horner syndrome.

My suspicions were borne out as the subject turned to “water having memory”. The basis given for this statement was that when you stir one of two identical glasses of water, you can tell which one was stirred by examining the chemical composition of it. Glass dissolves so the stirred glass will have minutely higher traces of silica in it than the unstirred glass. If you stirred it long enough you would have hydrogen peroxide. At this point an audience member asked whether she could produce enough hydrogen peroxide to dye her hair – to which Dr. Chaplin replied that her hair would be white by the time she finished. Another audience member brought up the point that all matter in the universe has “memory” by this definition and that his insistence in the case of water was some sort of fetish on his part.

What intrigued me about Dr. Chaplin’s presentation style was that he defended elements of the validity of homeopathy without believing in homeopathy itself. I would very much like to see a presentation made by him in front of a pro-homeopathy crowd to see how different it is. I think Chaplin really enjoys goading people and that comes across strongly in his performance.

He raised some interesting questions at the end: whether the binary state of H2O / ion pair could be responsible for the memory of living organisms in the same way that binary switches work in computing; and whether the states of water could be integral to our understanding of cancer – in cancer cells the water tends to be more fluid.

A fascinating and engaging talk, even though I felt I was being coerced into agreeing with him at times (projection slide labelled “closed mind or water has memory”), which is always a turn-off.

Come along next month – we’re either talking about: debunked alien babies; 1960’s spaceballs; or swimming robots depending on the timetable of the speakers. Whatever the topic, science + beer = good.

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Of Moths & Monkeys: a PubSci Darwin Day Special

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To celebrate the 204th birthday of the father of modern biology, the Horniman Museum’s Rachel Jennings gave a talk last night at the Albert Arms about the depth and breadth of Charles Darwin’s work.

Darwin investigated everything: from the changing face of geological formations to the effects of piano music on earthworms. Though he is most known for his Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, this is by no means the only thing he published. We have amassed a large body of data since Darwin’s day including entire new disciplines such as genetics. How have Darwin’s predictions held up? What did he get right and what was Darwin wrong about?

In the Origin, Darwin agreed with the naturalists of his day in concluding that the vast variety of pigeon breeds were descended from a single common ancestor: Columba livia. This was conclusively proved last week when a genetic study was done on a number of pigeon breeds. The study also found that the mutation which causes feathers to grow in the wrong direction – seen in the Old German Owl Pigeon or Indian Fantail Pigeon, has also arisen only once and has been selected repeatedly by breeders.

Keeping with the domestic breeding theme, Darwin studied the various breeds of domestic dog and came to the conclusion that they were too different to have come from a single wild species – that there must have been some crossing of multiple wild dogs to produce the canine spectrum from Chihuahua to St. Bernard.
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Subsequent studies have demonstrated, based on genetics and morphological character analyses, that all the breeds of dog do indeed stem from the Grey Wolf (‘African Pitbull’ aside). Darwin would probably have been delighted to hear that he was wrong in his conclusion as he once said that a single origin of dogs would lend great weight to his theory.

During his travels Darwin encountered many unusual plants and animals. Not least of which was Angraecum sesquipedale, or Darwin’s Orchid.
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Darwin’s Orchid image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

When he saw it, Darwin predicted that there would be an animal somewhere nearby adapted to feeding from it – one with a tongue long enough to reach the nectar. When he first said it, his contemporaries scoffed. The discovery of Xanthopan morgani, or “Morgan’s Sphynx” fulfilled that prediction.

On the subject of peacocks: Darwin reportedly was sickened by the sight of a peacock’s tail (he was in very poor health anyway though, so we won’t hold it against him). His explanation for the tail was to attract a mate – the larger and more spotted the tail, the more likely the male would pass on his genes. The actual situation is somewhat more complicated: for starters, removing eye spots did indeed reduce mating success but adding them seemed to have no significant effect. The peacock caused quite a stir in the question and answers round – an animal evolving a handicap to prove its prowess? What other examples are there of this? To which Paolo promptly wheeled out the human penis (thankfully metaphorical): Humans have the largest penis to body ratio of any primate and also have no bone supporting it. A male who can still get it up despite the odds stacked against him (stress, et al) is clearly worth mating with.

In The Ascent of Man, Darwin wrote: “An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men”. Darwin was wrong about the monkeys – as demonstrated by a study of a population of Vervet Monkeys on the island of St. Kitts. In the study, the monkeys could be divided into four groups: the teetotal group, representing about 10-15% of the population; the social drinkers, around 65%, drink more in the evenings – largely female; the steady drinkers, around 15% of the population, drink more in the mornings; and the binge drinkers, 5% of the population whose alcohol consumption per kg per day exceeds the fatal dose in humans! The theory is that an affection for alcohol may be linked to the ability to locate ripe fruit. Rachel is not convinced:

In conclusion: Darwin was a very gifted naturalist and very thorough researcher. We should celebrate the advancement of collected data and the ways in which Darwin has been corrected over time. If we try to sanctify the memory of Darwin into a figure who made no mistakes we not only give future naturalists an impossible role model, we also create a symbol out of the man instead of letting the integrity of his body of work stand for itself.

That’s all for now. Come along on the 11th next month when we will be discussing the marriage of art & science. http://pubsci.co.uk/

Collections at risk: what can we do?

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Yesterday evening I had a very interesting chat with The Horniman Museum’s Paolo Viscardi about collections under threat of damage or destruction. I expected the primary contributor to be human civil unrest but, as it turns out, our Natural History collections have far more to fear from a budget cut than from an angry mob with pitchforks. Paolo said that I would be surprised how often people end up rummaging through skips to retrieve type specimens in the aftermath of a closure. I was horrified that it has happened even once!

There are two things a collection needs to be safe: space and a person to care for it. If the owner of the property they are housed in decides to evict the collection, the collection faces homelessness. Without temperature-regulated storage, there is a high risk of a pest infestation and there are few things as edible as a Natural History collection.

If the museum manager decides to make the curator redundant, or makes cut-backs that result in people being responsible for multiple collections, again the collection runs the risk of predation but also of abject under-appreciation. With the best will in the world a geology curator with a geology collection already in his care will not be able to give an entomology collection the same amount of care and attention as a dedicated entomology curator could. It’s not just the division of time or the conflicting priorities, it’s also the nature of the challenges faced by the respective curators: an entomologist doesn’t have to worry about pyrite decay; a geologist doesn’t have to worry about live larvae in the specimen boxes.

Why is there a problem?

Firstly, we are culturally unused to thinking of a bunch of dead things having needs. We are good at recognising at-risk populations of living creatures even if we aren’t as good at doing something about it. Once those at-risk creatures die, we tend to think of that being the end of the story. For the people trying to preserve our continued understanding of those animals, this is only the beginning.

Secondly this government’s “bonfire of the quangos” resulted in the dissolution of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council – their responsibilities being placed upon the Arts Council. In the same way that a museum collection deteriorates with improper care and divided priorities, so too will museums and libraries if we aren’t careful. The Arts Council have taken their new responsibilities very seriously and credit to them but there is still the issue of time, skill sets, and priorities. Public interest have a role to play in the priorities too: it’s a lot easier to give the all-clear to the acquisition of a £5m Turner piece (which will make front page news) than it is to drum up £800 for new cabinets (which won’t even make the gossip column).

What can we do?

If you are a curator working in a collection that is under threat, or you have taken on responsibility for a collection outside of your comfort zone, you can join organisations like NatSCA which is a community of like-minded professionals willing to share their knowledge, skills, and resources.

If you are in the political sphere you can try and convince this government of the importance of the collections and push some money their way.

If you are entrepreneurially minded, take a look at your local museum and, if you spot some areas where they could ethically raise revenue, let them know.

If you are in education, impress upon the next generation how valuable these collections are so that, when they grow up and become curators, politicians, entrepreneurs, and teachers, they will be in a better position to protect their natural history than we are in today.

This isn’t one of those guilt-laden adverts with a crying Brachiosaurus skeleton begging you to donate or drop the charade of being a decent human being. All I want to do is get you thinking about the issue and what we can do to help.

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